Thursday, April 16, 2009

I was so hungry, I could eat a horse.

So I went to the butcher down the street and bought a horse steak...  I've been planning this one for a while.  Both the horrible joke, AND the consumption of horse.  Once I was told that there is a chance that any steak you are eating in a restaurant could be horse... I went out LOOKING for horse.  But in my searching, I've learned that "restaurant with horse" is not the best possible way to find what I was looking for via GOOGLE.  In the end, its best to go to the source and ask them.  
My idea was to stop at a good looking butchery and ask what restaurant would be best for a foreigner to try out horse.  I got way ahead of myself when I realized the only word I could communicate in that sentence was Horse... Cheval.  The Butcher knew NO English, and all I could really say was, "I'd like some horse."  He put a hand up (in a cartoonish way), left, and upon returning had a steak in his hand and insisted, "Cheval."  Ok, I guess I can just cook it myself... why didn't I think about that sooner.  It was priced about the same as a medium cost beef steak:  4.50 Euros for around 300 Grams (which is plenty for a serving).  
I was planning on a steak dinner for Easter, with some new experimentation, but I decided to go with my classic tried and true steak cooking method.  Sear in a pan with some oil, salt and pepper... nothing more.  I was told to be careful with the horse as it is much more tender than beef and tends to over cook quickly.  After doing a bit of research I also learned that horse can contain half the calories of beef by weight, and almost double the protein.  Its like a super steak... but how did it taste?  Hard to describe, but it was just different enough to exit beef territory.  It was extremely tender, and had a very slight gamy taste.  This was a mixture of venison and beef.
Horse isn't something I'm going to be looking for constantly, but its always fun to find culturally accepted things that just aren't available in the States.  Next week?  Waffles...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Waffle Breakfast" or "The 25 Hour Day"

Its been a while... I'll admit it.  I've posted about 13 days LESS than I should have this month according to my average for the first two months.  As you can imagine... this does not bode well for the rest of the daily habits:  no blogging, no pushups, no spending reports, no french.  Bleh.  But If you remember from one of my previous posts I described one of my new habits/celebrations as the post-all nighter waffle breakfast.  In the past two weeks... I've eaten a LOT of waffles.  That said, this will be a post about a multitude of concerns that pushed me towards extra waffles and a "25" in the Wednesday column of my time sheet.
I'll start at the beginning:  In the past three weeks, three people from my project team (of six) have left.  Those three people were also the people who had the most long term experience with the project.  It is also important to mention the fact that I have had four deadlines since the beginning of April.  Oh... and my project manager got chicken pox and was out of the office for about six days during the last two deadlines.  That sets the stage a little bit, imagine too much work with a shrunken inexperienced (on the project) team.  At each of the previous meetings there have been so many changes that we have edited essential building elements (elevator location, entire building dimensions and proportion blah blah blah).  That is our given environment, next I'll give a list of very generic requirements for this project:

1.  Renovation to an existing building in Paris (we are adding a "new building" on the roof of an old warehouse/factory)

2.  This is a "master planned" project.  One team of architects set up rules, and about six other companies are each designing their building to fit within the rules.  Our company has Two buildings, I am in charge of one of them.  The master planners coordinate all project teams, they also change things for the lower floors which will be commercial space.

3.  I have one neighbor, with whom I share a wall.

4.  There is a restaurant shoved into the bottom two floors of my building... but I am required on floors 3-7 to go to a lot limit that is on TOP of the restaurant.  This means I have a mechanical shaft (for the stove) running through my building to the roof.  This mechanical shaft is as large as my bedroom in my apartment in Jersey City.  

5.  We have a client beyond the master planning team who have their own set of requirements.

6.  These clients are building "social housing," or super cheap government subsidized housing.
6a. In social housing EVERY apartment needs to be handicapped accessible.

7.  The client is also a savvy developer and has been making a lot of money for a long time building social housing, their requirements are intense.

8.  We are contractually obligated to create a certain amount of square meters of housing as well as a certain number of apartments in that square meters.

8a.  There is a chart that shows us how many apartments of each TYPE there needs to be (5% studio, 25% 1br, 35%2br, 30% 3br, 5% 4br)... also a sub chart that shows us that more importantly we need to have a mixture of 3&4 bedroom apts that adds up to 35% of the total.

9. Each apartment type has a prescribed number of rooms, each room has a prescribed maximum area, each room also has a minimum dimension for window space.  

10.  We need to have a magical efficiency ratio.  We measure this by comparing the rentable space (literally the floor that you can rent... not space inside walls) to the total built space.  This has to end up at 87%  The calculation has a lot of complicated gimmicks and loop holes but this is the basis.
10a.  This requirement makes me pull my hair out.

*11. The BBM (big boss man) needs to like the look of the project.

I starred 11 because it is a general office requirement, but makes this process unbelieveably more complicated.  Usually social housing is designed as just that... social housing.  I believe that when the project was conceived it was unknown what housing type we were working with... thus it was unrelated to its eventual programmatic function.  So... hopefully if you've made it this far you have a sense of the complexities of the drawings, as well as the environment we are creating these drawings for.
About twelve days ago (soon after the three senior project team members left) a co-worker and myself decided to start from scratch.  After a full three months of people working on it prior.  With six days before a monthly presentation to the master planners.  This was a response to a mis-understanding of apartment sizes and a requirement to cut the building from 5000 square meters (50,000 square feet) to 4400 (44,000 square feet... hopefully you're all catching the math).  We had to keep the same number of apartments. We had to keep same rentable to built ratio.  We had to keep the BBM happy, with a very similar form.  
In addition to this, a consultant that will be on site working our project through the built stages stopped by the office and begged us to try to simplify the process and to use rational thought to make it work.  We were excited by the idea, out of 63 apartments in the previously presented edition there were about 55 unique apartment types (this means a lot of drawing... a LOT OF DRAWING).  After thoroughly disproving the ability for the previous building to be "fixed," we consulted the rest of the office for some fresh ideas.  A few mentioned that the access to the apartments, or the public corridors off the elevator, seemed a little large or unnecessary.  From there we drew about ten quick schemes of re-approaching the elevators and hallways in new ways.  We found one we were happy with... but we had to also imagine a way to fit all the correct apartment types at the right size as well as keep the right percentages.
After our very basic sketches we spent almost four hours doing MATH in an attempt to predict the reality of the building.  If you've made it this far you'll be rewarded to know:

A.  Our ratio of rental to built space = 85%  We were almost disappointed but,
B.  We cut the total area down to 4300 square meters... 100 more than they asked.
C.  We fit in 64 apartments... the last version only had 63 apartments.
D.  Our apartments are within 5% of the "prescribed apartment size"
E.  We have about ten different apartment types with minor variations on each.

I mentioned "about twelve days ago" for a specific reason.  While, I know the exact time and date that we made the decision to re-work the base elements of the project I also marked 25 hours on my time sheet for a single day... making it quite hard to consider it a measly twelve days.  That week deserved quite a few waffles.


Check me again tonight. I should be filled with a shiny new post... Promise.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Spending Report: Week 10

There are going to be two weeks relatively quickly here but oh well.

Overall:  68.20

Restaurant:  18.10
Groceries:  17.80
Fun:  14.00
Transportation:  8.00
Miscellaneous Food:  4.80
Stuff:  3.50
Beer:  2.00

Restaurant:  This was lunch and dinner for a few days because of some late hours and au revoir parties.  Not bad for multiple meals, but I should be cutting it down post April.

Groceries:  This included a 3.50 Euro bottle of wine and a bunch of onions.


Transportation:  Au Revoir Liz night = Beer and Taxi's

Miscellaneous Food:  I was pretty sick so I downed a few bottles of good juices through out the week.

Stuff:  My previous 3.50 Euro umbrella suffered a fatal accident so it needed to be replaced with another flimsy 3-5 use umbrella.

Beer:  Beer.

I started off really well last week doing both french (over an hour two days in a row) and physical stuff (like 150 sit ups and 90 push ups).  Then I got sick on Wednesday and I'm still getting over it now... I'll blame some Belgian devil weed that decided it was pollination time.

This week was considerably worse as I'm still sick and I've been pulling mega hours again.  The time change was not kind to my sickness, but sun until 8pm is very welcome.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What do I do?

I thought maybe I should finally talk specifically about some of the work I'm doing.  I've avoided talking and showing the work I've done up until now because of the starting exhibition date of the work:  Tomorrow.  Now I can show you guys what I worked on for the first month of my time in the office.  I'll explain it a bit tomorrow, but for now just pictures.  Most of the drawings I had a very direct relationship with .  IE there was a team of three for the majority of the project, and a team of four for the final night of work.  Only two of us were permanent fixtures in the project.  I took photos of the recently completed model, but took no part in building it.  My computer model was used to build the physical, but the whole thing was done by the BXL model building team: Congratulations guys, you did a great job.  If you happen to be reading from northern Holland... you can go see the exhibition opening tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lets take care of some tasks!

The previous weekly spending report will return tomorrow, its been a busy few days.  For now I'll cover two of the fun events from the past few days.  #1 Successful European Bank Account event.  #2 The Worst Apartment I've Ever Seen.  I capitalized them for dramatic effect.
I didn't work on Tuesday and took care of some of the items on my "to do list".  A quick side note:  I went to the US Consulate to get finger prints.  It was on "Consulate Row,"  which is a long street with a ton of security and lots of different consulates.  Each member of the security force had to stop me on my way and all I really wanted to do were finger prints.  I got it done, Step one complete.  Lesson learned?  The ring finger is pretty useless when you're trying to control it alone.  Moving on, the next step? Paying rent.  I've finally been requested by my landlord/flat manager to pay my rent correctly.  The past two months I've paid in cash, and this time the flat manager decided to not let me be lazy.  I went to finalize and start using my European Bank Account.  
I accomplished three things during this trip:  1. Depositing money into my account.  2. Receiving and activating a card.  3. Payment Transfer.  The first was the simplest, I gave them my account number and a bunch of cash.  They told me the money would be noticed by the internal computer system within 20 minutes.  The second step was easy, I didn't even have to show ID.  I gave a separate person my account number and they handed me the card... which the clerk referred to as "she" because again, there is no gender neutral pronoun in French (I have to make note of gender based references to inanimate objects as they usually fascinate me).  I put a PIN on the card and signed for it and I was good to go.  I then went on to step 3 which was the most interesting.  I went to a different bank (because it took 20 minutes to get there and was on my way home) and went in to use the automated banking service.  I had a little personal desk and computer that I put my card into.  I was able to do account referencing and investing, but more importantly was money transfers.  This is the main way to pay bills in Belgium.  I was able to input my landlords bank account number and set the account to personally pay him on a specific date with a receipt.  SO!  Bills paid.   I've also got to say I learned about an incredibly unnecessary Belgian card system.  I'm not entirely sure what it is called, but I can load a preset amount of money (under 50 Euros) to my debit card on the "chip" in front.  With this I can pay small fees at most convenience stores and really most contemporary shops.  I wouldn't need to use my pin and it is instantaneous.  But here's the weird part... if your card gets stolen or lost, you LOSE the money you've preset to the card.  I'm pretty sure I've heard of this before:  Cash... weird.
The second event of note was apartment searching.  I've finally found a "reliable" source of apartments to scan through that has a reasonable selection and is still in English.  Prices are included along with photos and lots of other info.  It isn't an individual real estate service, but an index.  The caveat being that you deal with a second individual not linked to the index.  Anyway... There is another American in the office that I discussed looking for an apartment with.  Two bedroom places are much cheaper per person, but he was on a short time frame and we weren't restricting ourselves to two bedrooms only.  He eventually signed on a one bedroom today because he had to get a place for April where I need a place for May... oh well.  But this isn't a story about what he got... this is the story of the WORST APARTMENT I'VE EVER SEEN.
We should have been tipped off by the single photo included on the website looking out the window.  We walked down to meet the land lord and take a look at the 670 Euro Two bedroom Apartment.  Before entering I'll make note of the context: Avenue Anspacht is like the crappy part of Broadway that goes past Chinatown.  Its crowded with people looking for awful urban discount stores.  I believe there was a dollar store (euro store) about two storefronts down. Upon entering, I was relatively impressed at the in-progress upgrade to the foyer of the building.  Then we walked through the second set of doors into the foyer of a 1990's urban horror movie.  There was no "finish" material to be seen.  The floors were original, unfinished lumber and we had to walk up six flights of stairs past a few very nice looking (or really scary) gentlemen.  I'm pretty sure the door wasn't even a door... but a piece of plywood with a door knob hewn into it.  We entered the apartment to see that there was still no "finish floor."  Maybe you're unsure what I mean by "unfinished" floor.  To make it easier: generally you can't see through the floor boards into the apartment below, untrue in this occasion.  
I also made note that the land lord was very creative with his listing of square meters on the index.  Within each of the bedrooms (that couldn't have been 6'x10') there was a loft above the entrance.  I recognize that this is common in New York to achieve a sleeping space and still have a fully accessible bedroom.  Those aren't usually made with 2x4s and plywood.  I believe he used these lofts to add square meters to his listing.  At this point I've become a master of apartment sizes in meters because I've been drawing them for the past two weeks constantly.  The developer I'm working for would be impressed to hear that this land lord fit 64 square meters of crappy apartment into a 45 square meter space.  Also, physicists are soon to question his ability to fold space and time.  I've been pretty generous (nice) while describing the apartment so far.  Onto the negative side:  it reeked of what I imagine death smells like.  I may have achieved a lifetime of asbestos poisoning in a single sitting upon entering this place.  My American co-worker didn't have the patients to be nice to the land lord and I only humored him for about two minutes.  We soon left and Ryan said to me, "Thank you Scott.  That could be the worst apartment I've ever seen."  I will forever be proud of that moment.